Satellite IoT solutions company Wyld Networks has announced it will be releasing a new range of terminals aimed at IoT applications looking to operate in extremely remote areas. What challenges does current infrastructure face with remote IoT, what does Wyld Networks propose, and could satellite be the way forward for IoT solutions in the future?
Remote devices that find themselves in the middle of a field, in a distant factory, or out at sea will struggle with a range of challenges, including power, reliability, and maintenance. But one problem that stands above the rest is connectivity, and anyone who has tried to make a phone call in the middle of nowhere will understand the issue.
When installing IoT devices far away from communication infrastructure, engineers have many potential solutions for getting the information from their devices. One solution is to use wireless repeaters that relay the signal from a device to a location that has connectivity infrastructure. This can even be achieved with the use of mesh networks which connect multiple devices into a single network, whereby data can eventually find its way into a device with an internet connection.
However, the use of repeating and/or mesh technologies only goes so far (literally and figuratively), and creating such a network may require additional land and hardware just to form a bridge between the remote location and civilisation.
Another potential option is to use pre-existing long-range communications technologies such as LoRa, which have proven very effective. However, even LoRa can only go so far, and LoRa support is somewhat patchy, meaning that not all areas are covered. Generally speaking, LoRa is generally more suited for semi-remote locations such as farm fields that border a city or town and not for locations where the nearest civilisation is 100 miles.
Even if extremely long-range radio communications that can span hundreds of miles are used, they will generally suffer from low bandwidths and licensing restrictions. Technologies that offer high bandwidths over long distances will suffer from high energy usage, which may not be possible for a remote IoT device.
However, one solution may exist for remote IoT devices that could see themselves as the future of IoT networks: satellite.
Recognising the challenges faced by remote IoT devices, Wyld Connect has announced that they will soon be releasing a range of the low-power sensor to satellite LoRaWAN terminals that will act as a bridge between IoT devices and satellite communication systems. The use of LoRaWAN helps to minimise the energy usage by individual IoT sensors, while the use of satellite internet provides coverage no matter the location on Earth.
Furthermore, Wyld Connect will also be introducing modem modules that can be directly integrated into IoT sensors without the need for a bridge so IoT sensors can directly communicate with satellites in orbit. This can be advantageous in applications where even the construction of a ground station is too complex or challenging.
According to Wyld Connect, only 15% of the Earth’s land has mobile coverage, and this means sensors trying to go outside of these areas will struggle with reliable communication. The fact that 100% of the Earth has satellite coverage means that sensors can be installed anywhere and still have a connection to the internet. However, instead of using VSAT systems for communication (which require large amounts of energy), the use of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites helps to significantly reduce power consumption.
The new terminals and modules are expected to be released in the second half of 2022. The new system is currently being tested with a range of industrial partners, including Bayer, Chevron, Treevia, Agrology, KWS Agrocognitive, and Wezen Group.
Historically, satellite communications have been a last-resort solution due to the high costs, the large power consumption, high latency, and low bandwidth. While satellite communication is ideal for locations such as radio telescope sites on the top of a mountain or on a remote island in the Philippines, it is by far one of the worst solutions when living in a built-up area with proper infrastructures such as fibre or broadband.
All of these problems with satellite communication primarily come from geostationary satellites, which have to orbit at a great distance to remain in the exact location relative to the ground. However, LEO satellite swarms (such as Starlink) allow for constant coverage while having satellites at a much lower altitude. This reduces latency, higher bandwidth and improves SNR making it a viable internet connection.
Does this mean that LEO satellites could be the solution for future IoT devices in remote locations? Considering that cellular coverage is poor and LoRa can only go so far, it would seem that, yes, LEO satellites could very well be the future in remote IoT devices.